Omar Khadr's release on bail 'disappointing,' says public safety minister
Steven Blaney says he regrets 'that a convicted terrorist has been allowed back into society'
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney says his Conservative government is not happy that Omar Khadr was freed on bail by an Edmonton judge.
"We are disappointed by the decisions of the court, because we feel that victims should be considered in those decisions," he said from the Dorval airport in Quebec.
"Our thoughts today are going toward Mrs. Tabitha Speer and her two sons, children who have lost their father and we believe for individuals who have pleaded guilty to crimes, should serve their sentence behind bars."
Khadr was accused of throwing a grenade that killed U.S. soldier Christopher Speer in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old. As a teen, he confessed to a military tribunal and was convicted and spent 10 years at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba before being transferred to the Millhaven Institution near Kingston and later to the Bowden Institution near Innisfail, Alta.
Khadr is now free on bail while he appeals his convictions in the United States for war crimes, after Alberta Court of Appeal Justice Myra Bielby shot down a bid by the Harper government to have him remain behind bars.
Bielby said there was no clear evidence that releasing Khadr would cause irreparable harm as the federal government has argued.
Court of Queen's Bench Justice June Ross had granted Khadr bail last month, but the government appealed that decision.
Mr. Harper is a bigot. Mr. Harper does not like Muslims.- Denis Edney, Omar Khadr's lawyer
"I look forward to Omar Khadr letting the Canadian public see who he is," said Edmonton lawyer Denis Edney, who represents the 28-year-old.
"Today is a wonderful day for justice, it's a start."
Some in the courtroom to hear the judge's decision Thursday clapped, and others cried, after Bielby announced her decision. Khadr showed no emotion, and stared straight ahead even as his supporters murmured happily to each other while hugging on the benches at the rear of the courtroom.
Immediately after the judge left the courtroom, a grinning Edney rushed over to Khadr, raised his hand above his head and brought it down to clasp Khadr's outstretched hand.
"It's done," he told Khadr.
"I imagine he'll be trying to understand whether this is really true and he will not really believe it until he gets picked up by me," Edney said.
Some risk with release
Bielby said the Crown had established there is some risk involved in releasing Khadr from the Bowden Institution. But she said the deciding factor was who would be harmed more: the public by granting bail, or Khadr by denying it.
Referring to a prison psychologist's assessment, which found Khadr had been a good prisoner, Bielby said there was little chance he would not surrender himself if his appeal failed.
Bielby noted the Crown had not proved there would be harm by releasing Khadr, and she also noted the release was unlikely to cause irreparable harm to diplomatic relations between Canada and the United States.
Bielby also said this case would not set a precedent. She said there is no evidence of another prisoner in Canada in a similar situation.
"The Khadr case, to say the least, is unusual," Bielby said. "There is a first time for everything."
Federal government 'disappointed'
Shortly after the decision to release Khadr was announced, Blaney's office issued a statement.
"We are disappointed with today's decision, and regret that a convicted terrorist has been allowed back into Canadian society without having served his full sentence," the statement read.
"Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to heinous crimes, including the murder of American army medic Sgt. Christopher Speer."
Edney again today criticized the Harper government's handling of the Khadr case challenging the government to show him where he's wrong in his assessment of Khadr.
"My view is very clear," said Edney, "Mr. Harper is a bigot. Mr. Harper does not like Muslims."
When asked repeatedly to respond to Edney's characterization of Harper as "a bigot," Blaney avoided directly answering the question but eventually said: "Well, you know this is a court case. There are views that have been presented to the judge and I think that in all we — I think we deserve respect.
"Everybody deserves respect. Everybody has [their] own views. I have great admiration for … Prime Minister Harper, who has taken a strong stance for victims over the course of the last decade."
The U.S. State Department declined to comment on Khadr's release.
National Muslim council reacts
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) was quick to react to the news that Khadr had been released on bail saying his release was "long overdue."
"Today's decision is consistent with the rule of law," said NCCM executive director Ihsaan Gardee.
"We hope that with his release Khadr can begin a new chapter in his life and reintegrate as a positive and contributing member of our society.
"Canadians should be deeply disturbed that the rights of a fellow citizen — even one whose family and name are unpopular — were so callously abused and ignored."
During the federal government's appeal to block Khadr from getting bail, Bielby heard arguments from his defence lawyers and a federal prosecutor who was seeking an emergency stay of the lower court decision that Khadr be granted bail.
Khadr will have to continue seeing a psychologist and will live with his lawyer, Dennis Edney, under a curfew from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Edney said his wife has been cleaning their home for weeks and has bought clothes for Khadr in anticipation of his arrival.
"She has every intention of giving him a good family meal," he said, adding he's not sure whether Khadr will be spending the night in his home Thursday.
Other bail conditions include:
- Interaction with his own family can only be made by telephone or video conference, and the conversations will have to be in English and be supervised.
- Any face-to-face visits with his family can only happen with prior written approval from a supervisor.
- Khadr is also prohibited from any communication with members of a terrorist group. He cannot apply for a passport, and his internet access will be limited and monitored.